What happens when we don’t listen?

MeditationTwice a month volunteers take the afternoon off from work to participate in workshops where they learn practical applications of mindfulness.  The most recent workshop was led by Ronald, a volunteer who is a social worker and mindfulness teacher back home in The Netherlands.  He is staying at the New Life Foundation for a month while on holiday from his job.

After an opening meditation, Ronald asked the participants to pair off and designate one person A, the other B.  The A’s were to tell a story – any story – for three minutes and the B’s were to listen as intently as possibly.

Ronald rang the gong.  Now the A’s were to continue the story and this time the B’s were not to listen.  Look away, fidget, think about themselves or what’s for dinner – anything to keep from paying attention.

Then the partners swapped, with the B’s telling the story and the A’s listening and not listening.

The group came back together to discuss their emotional and physical reactions.  Some found not listening felt incredibly rude.  How could we not listen to someone who was talking directly to us?  We weren’t raised that way.

Many assumed that, while their partners tried not to listen, they really were. Many talkers just couldn’t believe they weren’t being heard.  Was that true or ego?

Some reported, when not listening, they felt anxiety in various places in their bodies. Most participants felt the not-listening three minutes was much longer, when actually it was shorter than the listening minutes.  Ronald had anticipated this and cut the time.

The workshop was a powerful demonstration of the importance of listening mindfully.  By studying our own reactions when people don’t listen to us, we come to understand why the simple act of listening is important in maintaining healthy relationships.  It can even affect how we feel about ourselves.

Mindfulness is at the heart of the New Life mission.  Teaching and practicing it are high on our list of priorities for volunteers and residents.

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